Hifi is about seduction, is it not? After all music is emotionally charged. As a woman in the HiFi industry, I see a lot of contradiction. In the western oriented milieu it occupies, emotion is considered effeminate and seduction is largely in the male domain. Much Hifi therefore, has been designed to counteract the feminine, emotive aspect; to put the macho in its construction. Moreover, to construct an image of HiFi that belongs to the man cave and HiFi forums, with jealous possession.
Over the years we have seen this image shoot itself in the foot and unhappy Hifi buyers who sought to play an ego-enhancing game. HiFi is a word that can’t seem to escape this connotation, and one that is stuck in the time of ‘Mad Men.’ The HiFi industry grapples with its own identity.
Oh, how we at Totally Wired have disliked this incongruous image, long rallied against it and sought out others of like mind! For us, ‘music systems’ better describe what we sell – that is ‘systems’ that produce ‘music,’ and music is loved by everyone. This has broad scope because it covers the ‘how’ you like to listen to music, and the ‘why’ you like to listen to music. In other words, what a music system does for you. And there we come back to seduction.
By now you’ll be wondering where I’m going with this. That place is the now, the Anthropocene, where humankind collides with nature and simulacra dulls our senses. Yet the ineluctable pull of music endures. In response, inspired engineers, alongside imaginative visual designers, are producing engaging music systems to meet new yearnings, ones with longevity and small footprints. It is our job to research the HiFI quagmire for the best options, and in the case of separate components compose the particular music system that will enthral you.
Wireless loudspeakers in exclusive Nordic design: Vifa
Late 2017 we were introduced to the Danish Vifa music systems. These are single unit “portable, wireless, wifi, bluetooth loudspeakers” – there’s no simple word that describes them. The Vifa story is one of a company who in 2014 boldly re-invented themselves for ‘the now.’ They had an 80 year history of making some of the the most sought after drivers for loudspeakers. As Wiki will tell you, “a speaker driver is an individual loudspeaker transducer that converts an electrical audio signal to sound waves.” This is the Vifa technical heritage, and one, that given the quality and reputation of their product, could happily have continued with, but they chose to take a new path.
Vifa clearly challenged themselves to use the mastery they had to develop new drivers, along with the environment (cabinets), they were placing them in, the amplifiers to power them, and the digital processing to control, with the end goal of being optimal for music reproduction. To our experienced ears they succeeded.
With the digital wave providing new ways of sourcing music Vifa were able put their technical prowess into specially developed speaker drivers, and place them in single unit designs that people could simply send their music to – or radio stations, podcasts, Spotify, or whatever their digital source could store or access. Your options are wide open.
Vifa designers looked to their Nordic environs, even reached into the Nordic psyche, to visualise sound producing objects with tangible appeal. Objects that, in their words, give ‘timeless sound experience,’ and furthermore, that ‘the listening experience’ was the key to the solutions they arrived at. Their starting point, they say, was respect – for materials, details and for the user. Art, interior, textiles are visible in their creations.
So what does all this mean? To us, who give counsel on music systems? To you, who look for inspirational objects in your life? For us both, who seek music listening devices to live with, and enjoy? Firstly, it is our objective to provide you with what you desire; and to give you choice through a defined range of selected options determined by our experience and knowledge. Vifa is noteworthy and comes with our recommendation. Here is my review.
It is their distinctive character that first captures attention. These do not match the perception of HiFi. For a start, they are individual, portable units for unencumbered, mobile lifestyles; for individuals to own, and to share as they wish. Yet their textile outer imbues a sense of home and interior comfort. The strong cast aluminium frames with tactile satin-matt finish, exudes security, and to give authenticity the ‘vifa’ brand name is stamped in. Aluminium, of course, is chosen for its light-weight strength. Both textile and frame appear highly durable. To take them further away from looking like electrical appliances the most used control buttons, and indicator lights are embroidered into the front fabric. Lesser needed buttons are within easy reach on the back, indented and engraved for touch control. Understated and refined.
Yet our inner psyche likes interconnections and Vifa have been mindful of this. The wool fabric of the Vifas remind our us of warm soft jerseys, and with the embroidered buttons, reminiscent of early loudspeakers. The shape and carry handles of the Oslo and Copenhagen harken back to early portable radios.There’s no doubt the Helsinki will have you thinking Dior-esque handbag. There really is delight in these products that inspire Disney-like imagination, and that is where the art of Vifa comes in. They weave modernism with environment. They truly are products of this Anthropecene era. Take the smallest of the range, the Reykjavik – think bleached driftwood and sand, time-worn river stones, gems exciting prospectors, the shape of your palm, and the sense of touch through your skin. Now add to this cutting edge technology that enables extraordinary 360 degree sound through a small unit that works hand-in-hand with your mobile device.
So if you want a little bluetooth speaker in your life you’ll find no more pleasurable a one than the Reykjavik – and that pleasure carries over if buying it as a gift. The same goes for the other two portable models, Helsinki and Oslo. The mobile Helsinki with luxury leather strap (optional shoulder length on available), has unabashed vogue appeal, whereas others may prefer Oslo. Oslo evokes city apartment living and warm summers evenings on balconies and decks. These are music systems in their own right giving you choice in where you can listen to music, in seamless concert with bluetooth sources, on your own or when socialising.
Here I’m going to jump to the largest of the range, Stockholm – one of the two in the Vifa Home series. Vifa have five models in total – Portable: Reykjavik, Helsinki and Oslo; Home: Copenhagen and Stockholm. All named after Nordic cities of course, and they certainly do reflect clean Scandinavian deign.
The Home models are exactly that because not only can they bluetooth, they can Wifi, AirPlay, and multiple units can connect to form whole house systems. Of all the range Stockholm is the only one that does not have an inbuilt battery. Its big, so needs to be plugged into the power. Saying that I have no trouble picking it up and moving it around the house. On first sight its long shape suggests sound bar- but it is so very not! Listening to Stockholm tells me that its long shape is really like having pair of good stereo speakers in a single unit – that is why it is long. Not so it can perform tricky sound processing but so it can play music – in stereo. Like a good pair of stereo speakers there is imaging, ie. the (blah), HiFi term that describes hearing left and right dispersion of sound as well as merging into the centre. In other words emulating how things sound when at a live performance. You can place the individual instruments and vocals, and have a sense of space. This is what makes Stockholm a credible music system.
And one worthy of your attention – should you be after a sub-$3000 system for listening to your digital sources, most especially if simplicity appeals in an ‘anti-HiFi’ kind of way. The other reason to look at Stockholm is if you are thinking multi-room. The Vifa ‘Home’ app make it so easy, and the sound and style of the Vifas are light years ahead of the other boring wireless contenders. The Vifas are unobtrusive and don’t dominate your life, or aesthetically a room,
The Stockholm cabinet while wide is not very high and very little deep – I won’t go into specifics as you can jump into our webpage for that or jump over to the Vifa site. The various designs of the Vifas are individually all encompassing with every aspect of each one optimised for its purpose and size. All manner of technical challenges in building high performing loudspeakers are met. Stockholm produces the full array of high tinkly details down to deep warm depths, instruments are clearly picked out (pianos sound beautiful), voices fully nuanced, and there’s powerful low thumps when the music has them. Both the Stockholm and the Copenhagen are capable enough to be main music systems in your home, fill large rooms and can come alive at party volume – within reason, of course.
The rechargeable battery and carry handle which Copenhagen have means it is more easily moved around and placed. It too produces the kind of sound quality described above, and with its ease of use is my ‘go-to’ for playing music at home. Vifa homes will typically have a Stockholm, a Copenhagen or two, along with family member’s choice of portable Vifas.
The Vifas are without a doubt sumptuous, and have an aesthetically seductive appeal which alone is enough to make anyone want one. Yet even after months of having them in the house I still find when one is playing I do a second take thinking it is one of the larger music systems going. They fill our large room that well, and somehow, as if by magic these single unit systems produce music with clarity and fullness, separating out the sounds and instruments beyond what you would expect. I’d suggest to anyone thinking of a new music system or bluetooth companion to cast your eye over the Vifas and step into the HiFi Anthropecene.